Michelle McCraw Reader Extras
Cover of Frenemies and Lovers, illustrated objects including high-heeled shoes, a makeup bag, and a man's tie against a sky-blue background

Frenemies and Lovers Excerpt

Chapter 1: Flipping Angels


To-do list—October 22

✔️ Request limit increase for credit card

✔️ Pick up client’s gowns at boutique

Take gowns to client Give Audrey Hayes a piece of my mind

Everything about the Jones-Hayes mansion in Presidio Heights was exquisite, from the graceful curve of the staircase leading to the front door to the delicate amber spider mums spilling over a planter on the doorstep. The first time I’d come here, I’d stood on the doorstep like a slack-jawed noob, listening to the doorbell’s lovely, melodious chime. To a girl who’d grown up in low-rent apartments, it sounded like angels singing.

I banged the side of my fist on the heavy wooden door. Audrey’s flipping angels could shove their tiny harps where the sun didn’t shine.

The door swung open, making me wobble back on my two-seasons-ago Jimmy Choos. The pretty, smiling young woman who answered wasn’t my frenemy.

She was her daughter, Natalie, a stunning blonde in her midtwenties, about the age I’d been when I’d entered her mother’s social sphere. But Natalie hadn’t bumbled her way in like I had. No, Natalie had been born into San Francisco’s tech royalty.

No one would kick her out the way they’d done to me.

“Mrs. Winner. Would you like to come in?” As Natalie pulled the door wider and stepped aside, her high-waisted beige trousers swished. Her periwinkle-blue silk blouse was Brunello Cucinelli, if I wasn’t mistaken. Natalie was the youngest of Audrey’s children, but she had the best sense of style, vastly superior to her brother’s. I would not think about him today. Not while I stood on his mother’s doorstep.

“It’s Ms. Rose now.” I stood as tall as I could on the doorstep. “Or just Carly. Is your mother here?”

“She’s in the conservatory. Shall I show you to her?” Her phone buzzed in her hand, and she glanced at it.

My phone hadn’t rung in weeks. Except for today’s call to cancel my job. I sucked in a deep, calming breath through my nose. “No, thank you. I know where it is.”

“Great. See you later.” She bounded up the grand staircase, leaving me in the foyer.

I’d been to Audrey’s home often enough to be able to find my way around. I used to come with Brad for formal events and dinner parties. One time, when we were on the friend side of our frenemyship, she’d brought me to the conservatory to show off an orchid she’d coaxed into a pink bloom so ethereal I thought it might crumble like sugar if I touched it.

I rounded the pedestal table in the center of the foyer with its enormous arrangement of alstroemeria and stalked through an arched doorway into the hall that led to the back of the house.

My heels echoed off the Spanish tiles as I passed the doorway to the dining room. Audrey usually held committee meetings there and presided over them like a queen in her armchair at the head of the table. I strode past her private wing, the black and white powder room, and her husband’s office.

Finally, when I smelled green things, I flung open the French double doors that led to the glass-enclosed room. I slowed my steps, watching for wet places on the tile. Avenging furies didn’t fall on their asses.

Everywhere I looked was verdant. Trees grew from pots that two people could fit inside. Leaves the size of an elephant’s ear nodded in the gentle breeze from a fan. Graceful pink and white flowers cascaded from hanging baskets and planters. Although it was autumn outside, here, it was spring.

“Audrey?” I called.

“Over here.”

I followed her voice toward the trickling fountain in the center of the room. She sat in a rocking chair facing the garden outside. She wore yoga pants, a simple white T-shirt, and a man’s plaid flannel shirt—in her signature color, red—thrown over like a jacket. She’d tied a matching kerchief over her blond bob.

I’d never seen her dressed casually before, not even when we’d gone to the rainy, muddy groundbreaking for the library their family foundation had funded. Without her Dior 999 lipstick and couture armor, she looked as small and fragile as one of her orchids. But I knew the truth.

As one of the most powerful women in the city, she could bar anyone’s entry into the upper echelons of San Francisco society.

And today, she had put up her metaphorical keep-out sign in front of me.

I balled my fists at my sides.

She wore no makeup, and her unmasked wrinkles made her look almost as old as she was. With four grown children, I knew she had to be in her sixties and not forty-five as she’d claimed for the past ten years.

I was forty-five. And I was not going to think about her children right now. Especially not her second son.

There was a small bench beside her, but fury kept me on my feet. I stomped up and towered over her, planting my hands on my hips.

Her pale lips opened in surprise. “Carly, what are you doing here?”

The nerve! As if she didn’t know exactly why I’d come here madder than a wet hen.

I took a deep breath. When I was this angry, my Texas twang tended to pop out, but I wanted to inspire the fear of god, not laughter.

“What you did was low, Audrey. We used to be friends.” Sort of. “Before…” I swallowed down the words my divorce and, even worse, my downfall. “We worked together on more committees and galas than I can count. You know I’m a hard worker, professional and talented. I’d have done a good job for Bianca and started to build my business. There was no reason for you to go behind my back.”

“Behind your back?” Audrey shook her head slowly, her diamond earrings glinting in the afternoon sunlight. “Whatever are you talking about?”

“Bianca Waddingworth.” I parked my fists on my hips. Feigning ignorance was beneath her. “I was supposed to be styling her for her birthday party tonight. She texted me to cancel because you told her to.”

“Me?” She planted a perfectly manicured hand on her chest. “Why would I do that?”

“You’re trying to kick me to the curb.” A fresh wave of anger tightened my throat. “News flash: you’re too late. Brad already took care of it.”

“It seems like something you could have predicted,” she said in that cultured voice of hers. “Since he left Eleanor for you.”

Why did she have to be right? Brad hadn’t told me he was married when we met. And I was positive his new fiancée hadn’t known we were still living together when she knocked on my door eighteen months ago. But if I let Audrey distract me with that disaster, I’d never get my point across.

“All I want—”

“Hey, Carly, a question for you while you’re here.” Natalie’s voice at the door to the conservatory startled me. She was barefoot, and I hadn’t heard her approach. “If someone is sixty-something and in decent shape, what type of gown would you recommend for a formal party? She’s a yoga nut, if that helps.”

I paused. That could have described a dozen women in her mother’s social circle. “Good arms, then,” I mused.

“That’s right. And she’s a blonde.”

That narrowed it only slightly. But I had a sneaking suspicion she was asking for styling advice for the woman who’d backed out of paying me to do it. Still, Natalie was a nice girl. I only wanted to jerk a knot in her mother’s tail. “An A-line. Sleeveless, of course. In red.”

Natalie approached me, looking down at her phone. “Here’s a red sequined gown. But which shoes?” She showed me a photo of a pair of glittery gold pumps. “These?” She swiped to show a pair of strappy black sandals. “Or these?”

“Does she have a neutral dress shoe? Something beige?” I asked.

“Good idea.” Natalie tapped on her phone. “She should’ve asked you to style her.”

“Who?” I gritted my teeth.

“Bianca Waddingworth.”

She did. And then she canceled. But that wasn’t Natalie’s fault. It was her mother’s. “Maybe next time,” I said with a sweet-tea smile, hoping my tone didn’t sound as strangled to her as it did to me.

“Will these work?” She flipped her phone around to show me a photo of a pair of rose-gold rhinestone-spangled sandals.


“Thanks. I’ll let her know.”

Damn it, I’d just styled Bianca Waddingworth. For free. And let Natalie take all the credit. I sucked in a breath, but the conservatory’s moist air weighed heavily in my lungs.

Natalie looked between her mother and me, her gaze lingering on my fists jammed onto my hips. “You two okay?”

“Fine, thanks.” I broadened my smile.

“We were talking about Carly’s styling business,” her mother said smoothly.

“Nice. I’m sure you can refer lots of clients her way, Mother.”

“Perhaps Carly’s style would be better suited to a different type of clientele.” Audrey’s smile was brittle. She muttered low enough that only I could hear, “The kind down on Capp Street.”

I sucked in an outraged breath.

The doorbell chimed, and Natalie glanced down at her phone. “I lost track of time. I’ll get the door, but then I’ve got to go.” She pecked her mother’s cheek. “See you at the party. Will we see you there, Carly?”

Pain speared behind my right eye. “No, I’m not on the guest list tonight.”

Her cheeks went red. “Oh. What about the gala at the Merchants Exchange?”

“A gala?” I repeated. The event would be chock-full of potential styling clients.

“On November first. You should come. Is there room at our table, Mother?”

Audrey looked like she’d sucked on a lemon. “I don’t think so, darling. I’m sure Carly would prefer to sit with the new wives.”

Because after nineteen years of marriage, I was still a new wife. An interloper. I balled my fists.

“Still, you should come, Carly. You haven’t been to anything since…” Natalie grimaced.

The doorbell rang again.

“Saved by the bell!” Natalie said, trotting toward the exit. “Really, you should come.”

Across the room, a buzzing erupted from a phone resting on a wireless charger. Audrey ignored it, so I did too.

“I don’t care about being invited to parties anymore.” Staying home was preferable to facing down my asshole of an ex and his fiancée. “But I do care about making a living for myself.”

Audrey pursed her lips. “I heard your divorce settlement was less than ideal.”

Heat licked across my forehead. I wished I could go back and shake my twenty-five-year-old self, the one who’d blithely signed away any future interest in Brad’s business ventures. The ones I’d supported through dinner parties and networking for almost twenty years. But even if I didn’t have his money, I still had my pride, and my dirty laundry was none of her business.

“I came to talk about my clients. I need women like Bianca to hire me.”

She rose from her chair. She was shorter than me, but fire ants are small too. “Why do you think I had anything to do with Bianca canceling?” Her pale-blue eyes glinted.

“Of course you did. You’ve always had it out for me. You and the other first wives.” I’d never said it out loud, not to Audrey or any of her cronies. But it had been true since the day I walked into that first party on Brad’s arm, so much younger than his friends. Back then, she terrified me. Now, I was old enough not to give a damn about what she thought of me. I only feared what she could do to my business. “You’re kicking me when you think I’m down.”

I straightened my spine. I’d show her, and all the other first wives, that even without Brad, I was a force to be reckoned with. Someday, Audrey’s circle would beg me to style them for their parties. “I’m not down. Far from it. I’m going to show you, and everyone—”

“Mother?” A familiar voice echoed down the hall, sending lightning up my spine.

I couldn’t keep the images from my mind. His sexy saunter as he approached me that night in Monterey. His outrageous suggestion that I meet him in his hotel room. The way his face lit up when he opened his door to find me standing there.

His handsome face, slack with pleasure, as he groaned my name.

“In here, Andrew,” Audrey called. She raised an eyebrow. Her son could move his eyebrows independently too. “You were saying?”

Shit. I couldn’t face him. Not in front of his mother. Not after I’d left him asleep in his hotel room six weeks ago without a word. His heavy footsteps echoed on the hallway tile.

I held up a finger. “Do. Not. Mess. With me, Audrey. I might not have Brad’s clout anymore, but I’ve got plenty of fight left in me.”

I whirled and wrenched open the glass-paned door that led out to the garden. Heedless of the damage to my shoes, I scurried down the gravel path and around the side of the house, out of sight of the conservatory windows.

Tessa waited for me in her SUV. When I yanked open the passenger-side door, my middle fingernail snapped, shooting pain up my hand, but I didn’t pause as I hopped into the seat. “Floor it!”

Even though we’d been friends for only about six weeks, Tessa trusted me enough to do what I asked. She whipped the BMW into reverse. I missed the roar of a gas-powered engine, but the whisper-quiet electric motor did the job. Seconds later, we flew down the hill, away from Audrey’s house and the peril her son represented.

“So, how’d it go?” She flicked her auburn hair over her shoulder and swerved around a corner.

“Not like I planned.” I checked the rearview mirror. “You can slow down now. I think we got away.”

She decelerated only slightly as we merged onto California Street.

“What about the shock and awe?” she asked.

“Fizzled into turn-tail-and-run. He showed up.”



She rolled her green eyes. “We’re alone in my car. No one can hear us.”

“I’m trying to forget it ever happened.”

“Carly. He’s thirty-something years old—”


“Old enough to make his own decisions. You’re consenting adults. There’s nothing wrong with it.”

“Nothing wrong?” I plucked my blouse from my sweaty chest. Stabbing at the switch, I lowered the window to let cool air blow over me. “His mother can destroy my career. In fact, she may have already started. Do you think she knows? Is that why Bianca canceled on me?”

Tessa shrugged. “Fuck them both. You don’t need those bitches to be successful or happy.”

“Don’t I?” Women like Bianca and Audrey could afford my services, and I was comfortable styling them after years as their peer. In fact, that gala would be a perfect opportunity to prove it.

“Turn here,” I said. “We’re making a stop.”

She jerked the wheel and flew around the corner onto a side street. “Is it a revenge plot? I’ll work out your alibi. I’m an excellent accomplice.”

“Not that kind of revenge. Park here.”

She parallel parked the car in three moves. “What kind of revenge are we getting at a boutique? Are you going to hide a stiletto in your, um, stilettos?”

“No! It’s the kind where I show up to a gala I can’t afford.” Maybe this wasn’t a great idea.

“Ah, and you look like a million bucks and everyone wants to hire you so they can look fabulous too.”

“That’s the plan.” I got out of the car, and she met me in front of the boutique.

“Find me a dress, too, and I’ll go with you. And to pay for your styling services, I’ll buy your outfit too.”

“You don’t have to do that,” I protested.

“But I want to.” Linking her arm with mine, she walked toward the store.

I blinked away the sudden moisture in my eyes. Tessa was worth a hundred Audrey Hayeses. And this afternoon, I wasn’t going to worry about my dangerously-close-to-the-limit credit cards or what my frenemy would do if she found out I’d slept with her son.

Chapter 2: Fashion Emergency


From: Andrew Jones

To: Oliver Bond

Sent: October 22, 6:01 am

Subject: Saturday’s video

Hey. Don’t forget, we’re filming Saturday at the Arboretum. Subject is Fibonacci sequence. I’ve got this one. All I need is for you to show up on time (no sorry excuses this time) and hold the camera.

– A

Get in, check on Mother, grab a fern, get out.

Avoid comparisons to my brother.

Steeling myself, I strode into the conservatory. One billionaire executive wasn’t enough for my mother. She wanted a matched set, no matter what I wanted.

I wouldn’t repeat the mistake I’d made at brunch last Sunday. When I mentioned my job, she’d started in on my lack of career progress and then my checkered dating history. I didn’t have the energy for that today, not after an email from the client down in Monterey had reminded me of the night I’d tried—and failed—to erase from my brain.

I held my breath as I passed the sunny corner where Mother grew lilies. They always made me think of my dad’s casket covered with the stinking things.


When I reached the center of the room, a fresher aroma hit my nostrils, sharp and tart like a green apple. It reminded me of a night not long ago when I’d buried my face in silky skin and breathed it in. My fantasies had come true when I’d held a dream of a woman in my arms. In fact, I had feared it had been a dream when I woke up alone, the citrusy perfume that lingered on the pillow the only remaining proof of our night of passion.

I shook it off and approached my mother next to the fountain. I kissed the cheek she offered. The scent wasn’t coming from her. Like always, she smelled like Chanel No. 5. Maybe she had a new plant. I scanned the flower-packed room. I’d never find the source.

“What are you doing here?” she asked.

“I texted I was coming over, remember?”

“Oh.” Her pale lips turned down. “I forgot. With your brother’s news—did I tell you they did a full-page spread on him in Buzz Bizz?”

Only about a dozen times at brunch on Sunday. “You did.”

“We’re so proud.” She glanced at the door to the garden.

Eyeing the pink splotches on my mother’s cheekbones, I asked, “Are you feeling all right?”

“I’m fine.” But when she waved her hand, it trembled.

After Dad died, the conservatory had been my mother’s refuge. How many times had I come in here to find her, elbows-deep in dirt, fussing over one of her plants? Too many to count. Sometimes it had been hard to pull her out even when one of the girls needed her. I tried to never need her, but my sisters had been too young to understand that adults grieved too.

As hard as I’d tried back in the dark days, I’d never been strong enough to hold our family together on my own. We couldn’t lose Mother too.

I scanned her face for signs of fatigue. “Are you taking your blood-pressure medication?”

“I take it every day. Remember, I’m the mother here.”

“Of course, but—”

“Close that door, would you?” Mother pointed at the French doors that led outside.

Maybe she was overheated. I walked to the door and locked it, scenting that new perfume again. “Was someone here?”

“Carly Rose. You’d remember her as Carly Winner, Brad Winner’s ex-wife.”

I froze, remembering impossibly soft skin. Her rasping cry when she came. “Carly was here? Just now?”

“She left a minute ago. Ran out like there was a sale at Barney’s.”

I touched the door handle. One push and I could follow her, chase her down and ask why she’d left me alone in that hotel room after she’d promised we’d talk in the morning.

That would be pathetic. Clearly, I’d been only a fling. For her, our night together hadn’t been the earth-shattering moment it had been for me. I’d been foolish to hope I was worth staying for.

Besides, talking about it would break her rules. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t forget her any more than I could forget the derivative function.

I composed my face into a neutral expression and turned back toward my mother. After clearing the tightness from my throat, I asked, “What was she doing here?”

“Insulting me, can you believe it? Some nonsense about ruining her business.” Mother sniffed.

I chuckled, but when she didn’t smile, my stomach tightened. “You’d never do that, right?”

“Of course not. We’re friends. Of a sort.” She dusted off her hands and examined her French-tipped nails.

I narrowed my eyes. They’d always been in the same social circle, but they’d never seemed warm to each other. Carly usually ruled over one end of the party while my mother anchored the other like two oppositely charged poles.

“Hey, Andrew.” Natalie’s sneaker squeaked on the tile as she wheeled in a rolling cosmetic case, a dress bag looped over her arm. “I need a favor.”

“What else is new?” I reached out to tug a lock of my little sister’s hair. She dodged my arm.

“I need you to drive me to Bianca Waddingworth’s place.”

“She literally lives down the street.” I glanced at her sneakers. “You can’t walk there? I’m only here to pick up something for my video, then I have work to do.”

“I wish you wouldn’t waste your time making those videos,” Mother said, her lip curling the way it did whenever I talked about my YouTube channel.

I unclenched my jaw. “I can make the videos and still get my work done.”

“But you’d advance so much more quickly if you weren’t always goofing off with Oliver. You should be at least a vice president by now. Then you could champion your causes any way you wanted. Like your brother, for example…”

I turned away to examine a fern to keep her from seeing my flush while she chattered on about my perfect big brother, Jackson, his multibillion-dollar company, and his charitable foundation.

He’d been away at college when it all happened. He hadn’t found Dad slumped over his laptop in his office. He hadn’t watched Mother and our two little sisters fall apart. He hadn’t had to trim his focus to the essentials. He hadn’t been dogged by fears of dying too soon and leaving people behind unprotected. So, my brother had carried on our father’s legacy of success by founding his own software company.

I didn’t begrudge him his success. Much. I could never take the kind of risk he had. It was much better to work for someone else, a company that provided benefits, a company that didn’t depend solely on me like we’d all relied on my dad until one day he was gone.

I unballed my fist and ran a fingertip over the fern’s frond. When Mother launched into another rhapsody on my brother’s company’s stock valuation, I said, “This fern displays the Fibonacci sequence here in the frond pattern and these little shoots. Can I borrow it? I’ll return it unharmed at brunch on Sunday.”

“Not one bruise on it,” she said. “It’s an elfin tree fern. They’re endangered in their native habitat.”

“Andrew,” Natalie said in a wheedling tone. “That ride?”

“Down the street to the Waddingworths’? Fine.”

“We have to stop at Neiman’s on the way.”

“On the way?” I yelped. “Neiman’s isn’t on the way.”

“I meant we’re going there first to pick up her dress. Then to Bianca’s. She had a fashion emergency. Mother promised I’d help. Now hurry up. The store closes at six.”

I sighed. I wouldn’t get started on my work until after seven and on the script for Saturday until, at best, nine. But I’d been wrapped around Natalie’s finger since she was born. “Fine. What happened to your car?”

“Oh, you know.” She waved a hand. “Foreign cars.”

“I drive an Audi,” I grumbled.

“Not everyone can be as boring as you, Andrew.” Leaving the case where it was, she fluttered over to kiss Mother’s cheek. “See you at the party.”

Mother stilled her with a touch on her arm. “Who’s your date tonight?”

“One of the van der Poel twins.”

“Which one?” she asked.

“Not sure. Does it matter?”

“Technically—” Mother began.

“Bye, Mother.”

My sister swooped out like a butterfly. I offered Mother my arm and escorted her (and Natalie’s case) out of the conservatory.

“Have fun at your party tonight,” I said. “Don’t forget what the doctor said about mixing wine and your medications.”

She waved off my warning. “You could come too. I’m sure Bianca would love to have you. Her daughter Bella is home from college now.”

I hummed noncommittally.

“She’s always held a torch for you.”

“She’s, like, twenty-two, Mother. Have you forgotten how old I am? I’m thirty-two.”

She waved her hand. “An age difference like that doesn’t matter.”

“It matters to me. Girls her age don’t know what they want. I’m looking for someone more…mature.”

She narrowed her blue eyes at me. “You’re in your thirties, Andrew. You need to settle down soon. You can’t afford to be so picky.”

“I’m not picky. I date a lot of women.”

“And you always find fault with them. No one’s perfect.”

For a moment, I’d thought Carly was. Until she’d left me without so much as a note.

“I know. I’m waiting for someone special.”

She huffed. “Don’t you want what your brother has?”

Not really. I didn’t want a whole company to worry about. Or kids.

I wouldn’t mind getting some recognition from my family. But that was petty of me. I forced a careless grin onto my face. “Sure. If Alicia’s looking to ditch my worthless brother.”

“Worthless?” Her right eyebrow shot up. “His company’s valued at—”

“Andrew!” Natalie flung open the front door. “Fashion. Emergency. Move it!”

Relieved not to have to hear about my brother’s superiority yet again, I pecked Mother on the cheek. “See you Sunday.”

“I’ll give Bella your regards.”

I already had my hand on the door. “No, thanks.”

I wasn’t ready to date anyone, not even a nice girl like Bella. My heart was still too raw from the tenderization Carly had given it with her stiletto heel.

© Michelle McCraw, 2024

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